I gave up the dream of performing professionally a long time ago – quite honestly I had neither the talent for it nor commitment to the hours of practice required! But I have happily made my career working on the other side of the footlights as the LSO’s Digital Marketing Manager, and very rewarding it is too.
So it was with great excitement I received an email from Amy, our LSO Discovery Young Talent Project Manager, last week, asking if any Admin staff fancied taking part in the next Take A Bow project. I dusted off my violin and came down to LSO St Luke’s to join in.
LSO Discovery has been running Take A Bow for several years – in short, 100 string players from beginner to professional, from primary school to students from London’s conservatoires studying on the LSO’s String Experience Scheme, come together to perform a concert with the LSO’s string section. Currently the participants are drawn from music services and schools in East London, where the LSO has been focussing its music education efforts in LSO On Track in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics.
From the start of the rehearsal it’s clear that everyone is equal here – the specially-composed music has been written for different grades: beginner (open strings), grades 1–4, grades 5–8, grade 8+ and professional; and each part holds equal importance. We are one orchestra. The conductor François-Xavier Roth expects everyone to start and stop together, everyone to watch him (‘I want to see eyes and smiles’) and everyone to play the dynamics. The emphasis is on playing together as a team.
My desk partner Elias, who is 14 and from Barking & Dagenham Community Music Service, tells me that he’s only been playing the violin for two years, yet he’s already grade 6. ‘I’m learning the flute as well’, he says; ‘and I’m teaching myself piano and guitar.’ Impressive stuff. I learn that he’s also taking part in the LSO On Track Next Generation Scheme, which is for the elite musicians from the East London boroughs, so that explains it!
And so we run through the two pieces we’ll be playing tonight – twice, since there’s two concerts! – and are sent off to mentally prepare. ‘In music we say Toi, Toi, Toi! for luck’; says François. ‘Above all, make sure you enjoy yourselves.’
The excitement as we gather in the Jerwood Hall for the first concert is palpable. Parents wave at their offspring on the stage; everyone’s tuning up and practicing some of their tricky bits. The concert opens with the first movement from Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, played by the LSO with Tom Norris and Andrew Haveron as soloists. Jaws hit the floor – something to aim for that’s for sure!
And then we’re on. A nervous pause, a flick of the baton – no turning back now. Everyone’s concentrating so hard on counting the rests and coming in on time (handy then that there’s some LSO musicians dotted around the orchestra to help point the way to anyone that gets lost!). And here we are at the end, a big bows-in-the-air flourish, and the applause. Grins all round! ‘Do you get to do this every day?’ I hear one participant ask.
During the break between concerts I catch up with Peter Hayward, Head of Lewisham Music Service. ‘We’ve got 20 children here, some from schools and some drawn from the youth orchestra. They get so much out of it in terms of playing with others,’ he says.
I think that’s what this project is really about: playing with others. Getting the chance to play alongside some of the best musicians in the world in a real concert hall, to be inspired by them, to hear them tell you you’ve done well, to be proud of what you have achieved – it feels a far cry from slogging away by yourself in a practice room, or having your teacher nag you because you didn’t practice your scales again. Learning the art of playing as a team, especially so early on, is so valuable.
‘It’s a fab project and I’m so pleased to be involved’; says Maxine Kwok-Adams, LSO First Violin, who is helping the grade 1–4 players. ‘Very rewarding seeing the kids play and I feel very proud.’
She’s not alone. I’m off to tell all my friends that I just played with the London Symphony Orchestra…
Take A Bow is part of LSO On Track. Find out more about it here: http://lso.co.uk/page/3175/LSO-On-Track
Video about Take A Bow: http://www.digitalnewsagency.com/London%20Symphony%20Orchestra